The Kray Twins, Ronald and Reginald (Tom Hardy x2) rose to the top of the London gangster pops in the late 60s with a mixture of brutality, intimidation and unfortunately placed politicians. For starters, the title Legend, is a massive overstatement. Look, I’m not asking for them to call the film “That shit Kray,” or “2 Kray, 2 Furious,” but ‘Legend’ leads you to believe form the outset that their deeds, however heinous, deserve a legendary status; and they don’t.
There’s something wrong that’s hard to quantify. The production design is excellent, from bespoke suits to East End flats you feel like you’re in the right settings but other than the Kray’s night clubs, the film feels extremely sparse. London’s East End doesn’t hum with vibrant activity, people scurry through the streets and into pubs to take shelter. Beginning to ask those questions makes for distracted viewing. Brian Helgeland (writer of masterpiece L.A Confidential) is behind the lens and adapts the novel “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins” (which would have been a better title). Helgeland makes an interesting choice to set the unfolding actions of the Krays through the experience and narration of Emily Browning’s Frances Shea, long suffering partner and wife of Reggie. While Browning overcomes her diminutive stature with an engaging and forthright performance sharing a lot in common with Neo in The Matrix surrounded by Agent Smiths, in this case Hardy, their central love story is lost in the wrestle with which direction to take the film. Once Helgeland makes his choice you’re stuck with the relationship between Reggie and Frances and don’t get an opportunity to see the series of escalating acts that reinforce the ‘legend.’
The best scenes of the film are those that show Leslie Payne (David Thewlis) harnessing the intimidation power of the Kray’s into a gangster force in London. The Kray’s sit in each corner of the office, and thanks to Helgeland’s great composition of the scene they become the passive Devils on his shoulder, waiting to ignite and wreak havoc. Intimidation aside, watching the Kray’s get themselves into a situation where violence is expected and unavoidable, there’s a calm and ecstasy, especially in Ronald, that allows those scenes of intimidation to make the participants hairs stand on end.
Tom Hardy is able to tap into the performance mania of playing two totally different siblings, very often across from each other. The fact that he’s able to generate such caged ferocity towards himself should have people crowning him the greatest actor of his generation, instead at times he’s so good that you start to say to yourself as you’re examining Ronald, “so that’s what Bane’s mouth would have looked like…,” or while looking at Reginald, “geez, he’d be great as Bond.”
And jeez the gay ‘fan-fiction’ goes self-aware the moment that Taron ‘Eggsy from the Kingsman‘ Edgerton turns up as Mad Teddy Smith, the love toy and lackey of the unashamedly gay Ronald.
Legend is a film that does not live up to its name, but its leading man does. Without Tom Hardy’s titanic performance, Legend is Double Impact.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland adapted from the book – “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins”
Paul Anderson: Albert Donoghue
Tom Hardy: Ronald Kray/Reggie Kray
Christopher Eccleston: Nipper Reed
Emily Browning: Frances Shea
Colin Morgan: Frank Shea
Tara Fitzgerald: Mrs. Shea
Sam Spruell: Jack McVitie
Taron Edgerton: Mad Teddy Smith
David Thewlis: Leslie Payne
Chazz Palminteri: Angelo Bruno